I guessed it was a shepherd/collie cross.  I saw the dog pressed against the back wall of the cage in the Bergerac SPA kennels.  The whites of the eyes were showing, it looked very cowed. The racket made by all the excited dogs around was simply too much!  The postcard pinned up on the bars said the name was ‘Saika – female’. I went to ask the staff what they could tell me about her.

Saika was a case of ‘maltraitment’ they said.  The mayor of a town along the Vezere valley had reported to him that a young dog was kept on a chain in a concrete yard without proper shelter or food.  When the owners chose not to rectify the situation, the mayor activated legal proceedings and took possession of the dog then passed her to the Bergerac SPA for rehoming.

The staff said Saika was malnourished with a bad parasite infection and offered me a jolly little terrier to foster.  Well, I could see hewouldn’t be in the kennel long but Saika might be.  Her tail had a few stringy bits of hair straggling off it and she was bald from her mid-section down over her hips and back legs.  The skin looked like the craters on the moon from the damage caused by a nasty and long term flea infestation.  The fleas had been treated and were all gone but her skin and hair were going to take some time to repair.

Saika came home with me.  Gentle and quiet, she allowed me to handle her even though she was obviously very confused and insecure.  It cheered her up to be with my own two dogs but she needed encouraging to go out in the garden.  Because of her life on a chain, it took a while before she understood she could move without restriction.

We worried that Saika might have a hip dysplasia problem as she walked so oddly, preferring not to walk at all.  We found deep holes in the pads on all four feet.  Maybe from scrabbling at the concrete she was kept on? Certainly she had little muscle development on her hind legs as she never left the chain but if the odd limping gait wasdysplasia, finding a new home might be difficult.

By marvellous coincidence my Dutch friend, Marion who lives in Brussels came for a rest break as she has three large sons who cause a lot of work!  She instantly fell in love with Saika. The family dog, a giant black Newfoundland, had recently died from old age. Perhaps Saika would fit into their family and fill the gap they were all feeling?

Wonder of wonders, when my friend’s boys saw Saika’s picture and heard her story, they wanted her to go and live with them.  Even better, the boy’s father is a vet!  Saika would have the best possible medical treatment whatever her health challenges.

All Phoenix had to do was arrange a Pet Passport with all the necessary paperwork and then I drove north to meet the family halfway to Brussels at a motorway restaurant near Orleans to transfer Saika to her new family.  She was very happy to see Marion again!  I think there was already a bond forming between them.

Now registered to her new owners, the family in Brussels, Gigi has a new, sexy French name chosen by Marion’s boys. (It is also the nickname of their favourite Belgian football player!).  You would not recognise the dog.  Her silky coat has grown long and is mink grey as well as black with a white star on her chest .  The collar wound where all the hair was gone has grown over.  She has developed proper muscles from all the walks in the Foret de Soignes and games in the garden, the holes in her feet have healed and she no longer limps.  Best of all is the smile she always has in her eyes.

Madeleine Bath, foster carer and Phoenix President (acting)

A heartwarming story, Madeleine.  Thank you